Following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this review from January 12th, 2019 has been republished. On the Basis of Sex is now available to stream on Showtime.
There is a rather exclusive group of people who have left an indelible mark on the history and progress of the United States in our more than two centuries as a nation. From Presidents to legislators, firebrand populists to methodical administrators, activists, and generals, many of the same names come to mind. One of those names, however, has become so synonymous with American culture and politics today that she has, without any effort on her part, created a movement and amassed a following of fans and admirers.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
On the Basis of Sex is the story of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), starting with her just starting at Harvard Law at a time when there were virtually no women at the institution and the disdain for women lawyers was still clear. The Dean was known for asking women why they were taking the place of a man at the school. Nevertheless, she persisted, worked hard, and proved herself to be a capable student. She eventually graduated from Columbia Law School first in her class.
Following her graduation, Ruth sets out to find work and to make her mark. As a young, strong woman, she wants to prove that she is just as capable as any other man, if not more so. However, because she is a woman and misconceptions are still rampant in the late 1950s and early ’60s about women in the workforce, this becomes an almost impossible task. She eventually gains a position at Rutgers Law School as a professor.
What eventually transpires is Ruth Bader Ginsburg coming into her own. After a jump in time, now placing the film in the early 1970s, we see protests and young Americans taking a stand for themselves. Attitudes have shifted and ideas of how women should be treated under the law are changing. Ruth is going to have to decide who she wants to be and what her role will be in this fight. Ever the lawyer, she sets out to make her mark by challenging laws which discriminate on the basis of sex. But this is easier said than done. It will be an uphill battle, but Ruth is up for it and intends to beat the odds.
On the Basis of Sex is also about Ruth’s relationship to her late husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer). Their relationship while Ruth was attending school, their work together, and their raising of children. They couldn’t be any more different in the way they think and act and, judging by stories that have been told and interactions witnessed of the real-life couple, Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer bring this relationship to life onscreen. Martin Ginsburg was a staunch advocate for his wife throughout their marriage and is credited with getting the ball rolling on her eventual Supreme Court nomination.
By the looks of the initial theatrical trailer, released earlier in 2018, On the Basis of Sex didn’t inspire much confidence and gave off a feeling that is so often accompanied by made-for-television movies and dramas. It just didn’t look like a movie meant for the big screen. But that isn’t what happened. Felicity Jones gave an admirable portrayal of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The very last scene, down to the very last shot, is worth seeing this film for. As the film pays homage to a remarkable woman who broke glass ceilings of her own, and for women across the country, there is a surprisingly quick, and incredibly heartwarming thing that happens before the film finally concludes.
On the Basis of Sex should inspire anybody, man or woman, to stand up against that which is wrong and to work hard even when everybody else says something can’t be done. It powerfully captures the angst and frustration that gender inequality has caused for so many with each passing generation. This is not a film, nor a story, to be missed.